Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 337-340
In a few pages we’ll arrive at the dramatic climax of this chapter, which involves Buck and Chloe lying to Verna Zee, the woman who has been heroically struggling to keep Global Weekly alive and true to its calling of journalism. First, however, we have this scene, in which the entire Tribulation Force gathers to lie to Loretta, the woman who has been heroically struggling to keep New Hope Village Church alive and true to its calling of Christian ministry.
The Tribulation Force, plus Loretta and minus Tsion, sat somberly. “So, that’s what Donny Moore brought you?” Rayford said, nodding at the stack of laptops.
“Yep. One for each of us. I asked Loretta if she wanted one too.”
Loretta waved him off, smiling. “I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I probably couldn’t even open it.”
This comes just a few pages after we were told that “someone, probably Loretta” had written, designed and printed out all the programs for Bruce’s memorial service. She presumably did that on a computer and not with an X-Acto knife, rubber cement, and a Xerox machine, like she used for the underground music ‘zine she self-published back in the ’80s.
OK, that ‘zine exists only in my personal head-canon regarding Loretta.* But while my imagined back-story for this character may be fanciful and idiosyncratic, it still makes more sense than either the main characters’ perceptions of her or what we’re told directly about her by the authors themselves. The book’s official description of Loretta is consistently inconsistent, repeatedly contradicting itself.
The example here — Loretta uses computers, but wouldn’t even know how to open a laptop — forces readers to conjure up some kind of meta-Loretta, reading between the lines to try to create some figure who could contain all the contradictory things we’re told and shown about this character.
This meta-character turns out to have to be omni-capable and wicked smart. And, because we can only see her in contrast to the surrounding cast of characters like Buck and Rayford, she also becomes, almost by default, the most likable figure in any scene in which she appears.
All of that, for me, colors this scene, inverting the intended dynamic of what Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins imagine they’re portraying here. They intend this to be a scene in which the shrewd, sophisticated members of the Tribulation Force protect poor, naive Loretta from their secrets. They can’t let her know about the secret shelter Bruce built beneath the basement of the church, or that this is where they have now sequestered the renegade rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah.
But we already know that Loretta has been running the show at New Hope Village Church for the past two years. The congregation has been growing, and thriving. Bruce Barnes had nothing to do with that — he spent all his time either holed up in his study or traveling abroad. Rayford and Amanda have spent the past year on the other side of the world, Chloe’s been laid up since her accident, and Buck has been gallivanting around in Israel.
That leaves Loretta. She’s been there all this time, keeping the ship afloat and keeping her congregation safe, fed, and sheltered even while the literal Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse having been ravaging the world (with Rayford’s direct assistance). Given all that, it’s hard to believe that Loretta wouldn’t already know all about the secret that Bruce clumsily tried to keep from her — or about the vast amount of church funds he diverted to fund it.
And thus I can’t interpret Loretta’s dim-witted old lady routine here as anything but an act — a put-on to keep the four Tribulation Force members from interfering with her flock during their brief visit back to the Chicago suburbs.
“Where’s Tsion?” Rayford said. “I really think we ought to keep him with us for a while and –”
“Tsion is safe,” Buck said, looking carefully at Rayford.
“What does that mean?” Loretta asked. “Where is he?”
Rayford sat in a chair on wheels and rolled it close to Loretta. “Ma’am, there are some things we are not going to tell you, for your own good.”
“Well,” she said, “what would you say if I told you I didn’t appreciate that very much?”
“I can understand, Loretta –”
“I’m not so sure you can, Captain Steele. I’ve had things kept from me all my life just because I was a polite, southern lady.”
“A southern belle is more like it,” Rayford said.
“Now you’re patronizin’ me, and I don’t appreciate that either.”
Notice how she doesn’t start dropping the ‘g’ until after Rayford reminds her that he thinks of her as a fragile “southern belle”? She’s playing into his misconception of her, feeding his underestimation.
Rayford leaned forward. “I’m quite serious about doing this for your own good. The fact is, someday, and I mean someday very soon, very high-placed officials may try to force you to tell them where Tsion is.”
“And you think if I know where he is, I’ll crack.”
“If you don’t know where he is, you can’t crack and don’t even have to worry about it.”
This idea that “very high-placed officials” are hunting for Tsion is a major plot point. Buck helped the rabbi escape from Israel because he was wanted by the authorities in that country — the same authorities who framed him for murder there. But now that they’re back in the Antichrist’s One World [minus Israel] Government, those Israeli authorities have no jurisdiction. So why is Tsion now being hunted by the Antichrist and the very high-placed officials of his OWG?
We have to assume that the Antichrist’s term-limited seven-year peace treaty with Israel must have included a provision on extradition. But even that wouldn’t explain why hunting down this falsely accused Israeli fugitive would become such a high priority for the global potentate.
The logic of this seems to come from Tim LaHaye’s prophecy scheme, in which this peace treaty and its terms are fundamentally important. As LaHaye repeatedly reminds us in this book, he calculates the beginning of the Great Tribulation not with the Rapture, or even with the Antichrist’s conquest of the entire non-Israel world, but rather with the signing of this treaty between that Antichrist OWG and Israel.**
In LaHaye’s scheme, the Antichrist will faithfully honor this treaty for three and a half years before betraying Israel and viciously attacking it at precisely the 42-month mark. During that first half of the treaty, though, LaHaye believes the Antichrist will behave as a true friend of Israel, magnanimously tending to all of its needs and wishes.**** This solicitude is demonstrated in the pages of these books through two things: 1) The Antichrist is helping the nation-state of Israel to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem; and 2) the Antichrist is helping the nation-state of Israel to frame, track-down, and execute a rabbi for the crime of converting to Christianity.
Here, in a nutshell, is what Tim LaHaye imagines are Israel’s two greatest concerns and priorities. He imagines they want the Temple rebuilt, and that they want to hunt down and execute Christians.
Loretta pursed her lips and shook her head. “I know y’all are livin’ in dangerous times. I feel like I’ve risked a lot just by puttin’ you up. Now I’m only your landlady, is that it?”
“Y’all are livin’ in dangerous times,” Loretta says to Rayford, Buck, Amanda and Chloe. That’s an apt description of how the members of the Tribulation Force seem to view themselves, and of how the authors think of them — as exceptionally, or maybe even exclusively, “living in dangerous times.”
But Loretta herself has to know better. She knows that she, too, is living in dangerous times — that, in fact, everyone is. So why doesn’t she say, “We’re living in dangerous times”? Again, the only sense I can make of that is to imagine that she’s deliberately flattering Rayford, distracting him by appealing to his massive ego.
“Loretta, you’re one of the dearest people in the world to us, that’s who you are. We wouldn’t do anything to hurt you. That’s why, even though I know it offends you — and that’s the last thing I want to do — I’m not going to let you intimidate me into telling you where Tsion is. You’ll be able to communicate with him by phone, and we can communicate with him by computer. Someday you may thank us for withholding this from you.”
Amanda interrupted. “Rayford, are you and Buck saying that Tsion is where I think he is?”
“Is that necessary already?” Chloe asked.
Let’s just note that, in context, these comments from Amanda and Chloe aren’t much different from their chiming in to say, “We know the secret too! Everybody but you knows, Loretta — neener, neener.” And that perhaps this isn’t helpful for what Rayford imagines he’s trying to accomplish here.
Loretta, clearly peeved, stood and paced, her arms folded across her chest. “Captain Steele, sir, could you tell me one thing? Could you tell me that you’re not keepin’ this from me because you think I’d blab it all over?”
Rayford stood. “Loretta, come here.”
She stopped and stared at him.
“Come on now,” he said. “Come right over here and let me hug you. I’m young enough to be your son, so don’t be taking this as condescending.”
As a general rule, if you find yourself instructing someone else that they mustn’t take what you’re about to say as condescension, well, you’re probably being condescending.
Also, too, although I am not, personally, a hugger, I appreciate that hugging can be, in the proper circumstances, a fine and lovely thing. But I have a hard time seeing this as the proper circumstances.
Loretta seemed to be refusing to smile, but she did slowly approach Rayford. He embraced her. “Ma’am, I’ve known you long enough to know that you don’t tell secrets. The fact is, the people who might ask you about Tsion Ben-Judah’s whereabouts wouldn’t hesitate to use a lie detector or even truth serum if they thought you knew. If they could somehow force you to give him up against your will, it could really hurt the cause of Christ.”
The Antichrist is meant to be understood as the embodiment and apotheosis of evil — worse and crueler than anyone who ever came before. So it’s a bit odd to realize that the Antichrist’s most fearsome interrogation tactics are nowhere near as brutal or sadistic as the methods being advocated right now, publicly and explicitly, by the current Republican nominee for president.
The authors probably didn’t mean for this passage to portray the Antichrist as less evil than Dick Cheney or Donald Trump. It wouldn’t make any sense to try to torture Loretta, of course, because that’s not what “harsh interrogation tactics” were designed to do. Torture is only useful for extracting false confessions, not for getting someone to divulge true secrets.
Still, though, one would have thought that the superlatively evil Antichrist — a guy who just delighted in nuking Chicago and dozens of other cities for no apparent reason — would still enjoy such counter-productive cruelty. I dunno, maybe since the Geneva Conventions are, like the UN, tools of the coming Antichrist, that coming Antichrist will still be bound by them.
She hugged him. “All right then,” she said. “I still think I’m a tougher bird than you people seem to think, but all right. If I didn’t think you were doin’ this with my best interests in mind, misguided as y’all are, I’d throw you out of my boardinghouse.”
That made everybody smile. Everybody except Loretta.
She’ll smile later — after Captain Hug-Me has flown back to New Babylon and she’s able to resume her work leading this congregation without having to babysit the clueless narcissists of the Tribulation Force.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
* JoJo was a tiny, but influential ‘zine in Chicago’s music scene. At its peak, it had a print-run of only 1,400 copies per issue, but it was said that a single sentence from Miss Loretta could make or break the future of any area band oe DJ. It was back then that she stopped using — stopped needing — her last name, becoming simply “Loretta,” an icon as famous for being a critic as for being a muse. (She was rumored to be the inspiration for everything from Buddy Guy’s “She’s a Superstar” to Frankie Knuckles’ “Baby Wants to Ride” to power-pop trio Green’s “Curry Your Favor.”)
It’s the connections from those days in the Chicago music scene that will later in this story enable Loretta to fake her own death and take her underground resistance network completely off the grid (thanks to the family fortune of a local guitarist and rumored former paramour).
Again, this is only my personal, imagined backstory for Loretta, and I can’t point to anything specific in the text that would support it. But since the official account of Loretta is self-refuting and contradictory, I’d argue that this backstory is just as defensible as any other. And it’s certainly a lot more fun.
** This is part of LaHaye’s market-differentiation to carve out his personal niche in the “Bible-prophecy” publishing industry. Everybody in that racket needs to insert a few original ideas into the pre-existing template they’re all otherwise repeating — kind of like the trap streets mapmakers use to prove copyright. Or maybe more like the way the water bandits leave the taps running as their trademark.
I try to steer clear from these arcane, internecine squabbles among “Bible-prophecy scholar” hucksters,*** but since LaHaye’s peace-treaty timeline is important to the plot of this series, we should mention that his idea about starting the Tribulation with the treaty, rather than the Rapture, doesn’t quite add up. The Antichrist, after all, is the rider on the white horse who conquers the world in the first of the seven seal judgments. Those seven seals are part of the so-called Great Tribulation, so this white-horse Antichrist can’t very well rise before the Tribulation starts, signing a peace treaty before he conquers the rest of the world.
LaHaye tries to finesse this in Left Behind by having the Antichrist sign this treaty in a kind of pre-Antichrist role as UN secretary general, but this only works because he imagines that the United Nations already functions exactly in the way his “prophesied” OWG of the Antichrist later will, and the real UN is nothing like that.
I don’t recommend raising this point with either LaHaye or any of his most devoted followers, because that will only lead to a very long, psychedelically occult conversation about the weeks of the book of Daniel, and you’re not going to live long enough to make such a conversation worth your while. But still, it doesn’t add up.
*** One of the more substantial such differences is the long-running feud between pre-Tribbers like LaHaye and Hal Lindsey and the vocal-but-marginal minority of “Bible prophecy scholars” who argue a mid-Tribulation Rapture. The Left Behind series is only the latest and most lucrative of a long series of End Times fiction series over the past century — from Sidney Watson to the Thief in the Night movies. Nearly all of those series present a pre-Tribulation Rapture.
That leaves, I think, a vastly underexploited niche for a mid-Trib fictional series — an End Times scheme that, while equally dubious theologically, seems to have even greater dramatic potential. Someone, eventually, is going to make an unscrupulous fortune writing such a series. You’re welcome to try it, although I’d recommend dedicating the profits to charity just in case karma or the arc of the moral universe or a just God or anything of that sort actually turns out to exist.
**** It’s not hard to see a bit of projection here in this idea that the Antichrist will pretend to be a great friend of Israel, before abruptly seeking its destruction. This is not that different, after all, from the way that LaHaye and other American End Times preachers proclaim themselves to be the greatest and truest friends of Israel while simultaneously also explicitly stating that in the imminent End Times for which they long, all Jews will be forced to convert or else be destroyed.